x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hugo salvages a point for Al Wahda in Champions League

The Brazilian midfielder fired in a quick equaliser in the 87th minute to keep Wahda from losing to Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan in an entertaining match.

Mohamed al Shehhi, left, takes a shot at goal against Bunyodkor at Al Nahyan Stadium last night.
Mohamed al Shehhi, left, takes a shot at goal against Bunyodkor at Al Nahyan Stadium last night.

ABU DHABI // A draw at home generally is not the way a side would prefer to start Asian Champions League play, but considering that Al Wahda went down a goal with five minutes to play last night, the Pro League champions will happily take the one point.

Hugo, the Brazilian midfielder, fired a goal into the upper-right corner of the goal in the 87th minute to keep Wahda from losing to Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan in an entertaining match seen by 5,622 at Al Nahyan Stadium.

“We didn't get the result we wanted to achieve in this game, but we played much better than in the last two matches, so from that point of view it was a lot of improvement,” said Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda coach. “We were down one-nil with five minutes to play, so we have to be pleased with the result.”

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It appeared as if Wahda would join Al Ain and Emirates as first-round losers from the UAE yesterday when Aziz Haydarov, a veteran of the Asian Cup with the Uzbek national team, rolled a 15-yard shot into the goal past Wahda goalkeeper Mutaz Abdullah, who was partly screened on the play.

Moments later, Wahda were pressing at the other end. Fernando Baiano, the big Brazilian forward who was mostly marooned at the tip of the home side’s attack, carried the ball into the box, and as he was knocked off balance he tapped the ball over to Hugo, a 77th-minute substitute.

Hugo held off a defender with his right arm as he pivoted and rocketed the shot with his left foot from just inside the box and past the Bunyodkor keeper Ignatiy Nesterov, and Wahda escaped with a point.

“I told Hugo that I wanted him to be the joker in the deck,” Hickersberger said, “that when he comes in that he will be fresh and he can create chances and he can go for goals much easier than if he starts from the beginning. and look what he has done. it was perfect.”

Wahda came close to a last-gasp victory when a shot by Saeed al Kathiri in the third minute of extra time was barely pushed wide of goal by a diving Nesterov.

Unlike Gharafa, the Qatar side who came to the capital Tuesday night hoping for one point at Al Jazira, Bunyodkor, three-time champions of the Uzbekistan league, arrived looking for three.

The ambitious Tashkent side, created only in 2005 but making their fourth consecutive appearance in the ACL, did not bring names like Rivaldo and Denilson, as they did a year ago. But they showed a cool professionalism, tactical awareness and technical skill in their first official match of 2011. The Uzbek league season begins later this week.

Bunyodkor defeated Wahda twice in ACL group play a year ago, and nearly defeated them again, and a home defeat would have been costly for the Abu Dhabi club who had been wretched in a 5-3 defeat away to bottom-of-the-table Kalba and a 2-0 victory over second-division side Masafi.

“Of course I was worried, especially after the last two matches,” Hickersberger said. “It's difficult to play in the Asian Champions League when you give up five goals to Kalba. The Champions League is a different level, a different quality of football. So for that reason I'm not unhappy with the way we played in this match.”

Wahda next plays at Persepolis of Iran, a 2-1 loser to Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia in the other Group C game last night.

Hickersberger rued the two points not gained at home, but he was impressed by Bunyodkor.

“They are a really good team, a solid team that has been in the Asian Champions League many times, a team with a lot of confidence,” he said. “I didn't expect an easy win. They have qualities, big qualities. It was a draw, and both teams didn't deserve to lose.”

Earlier in the evening, First Division side Emirates went down 2-1 away to to Zob Ahan of Iran. The UAE side are in the tournament after they won the President's Cup last season, although they could not avoid relegation from the Pro League.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae